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What the &#$% is ZOMBIES & SHARKS?

Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. Let’s dive right into a couple of oldies, a few newbs, some indies of various quality, and a radio play!

Sounds fun? Well, come on and check out the horror reviews!

(Click title to go directly to the feature)

TALES FROM BEYOND THE PALE Season Two Episode One (2013)
And finally…51 Deep’s TALLMAN & THE BEARD!

Retro-Review: New on DVD this week from The Scream Factory!


Directed by Christian Duguay
Written by B.J. Nelson
Starring David Hewlett, Deborah Raffin, Yvan Ponton, Isabelle Mejias, Tom Butler, Raoul Trujillo, Vlasta Vrana
Directed by Christian Duguay
Written by B.J. Nelson, Julie Richard, David Preston
Starring Liliana Komorowska, Valérie Valois, Steve Parrish, Colin Fox, Daniel Pilon, Peter Wight, Harry Hill
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

The Shout Factory released their BluRay version of SCANNERS a while back, highlighting one of David Cronenberg’s more iconic films, mainly made famous for the head-bursting scene. It’s amazing how much life can be squeezed out of a concept fully explored in comics such as Marvel’s New Universe’s PSI-FORCE, Valiant Comics’ HARBINGER, and, of course, Marvel’s X-MEN. Not the deepest of Cronenberg’s concepts, but one that not only spawned two sequels released in the same year, but also a spin-off SCANNER COP series of films which I hope will get the BluRay treatment next. Today, we’re taking a look at these two sequels which, minus Cronenberg, definitely fail to meet the standards set by the original, but still have some charm and capture the era they were made in pretty well.

Describing these two films as comic booky is an offense to comic books as these films, especially PART III: THE TAKEOVER, feel like what people who don’t read comic books think comic books are like: over the top dialog, very little character development, nonsensical plans with complicated setups and implementation. The sophisticated way Cronenberg sowed conspiracy with the extra-sensory is handled in these sequels as if the writers, directors, and actors don’t know the meaning of the word subtlety. The results are a pretty awful messes of movies. Still, there are things to like about the two sequels.

There are a few things no SCANNERS movie should be without. First and foremost: the obligatory head explosion sequence where a Scanner shows his or her power by making someone’s eyes bulge and head explode. Both of these films have them, and while SCANNERS II: THE NEW ORDER’s at least has the decency to film it differently by having the burst come from the back of a robber’s neck, SCANNERS III: THE TAKEDOWN apes the entire scene where Michael Ironside causes the guy’s head to ‘splode in the first film. Both directors know this is the money shot of the film, and spend a lot of time building up to it and making it look like a nice and juicy splatter. SCANNERS III gets extra points for having an extra head ‘splode near the end of the film as a football player’s noggin goes POP on national TV.

The other thing that shows up in both films is the hint of conspiracy. SCANNERS II deals with the next generation of Scanners still not knowing what the whole deal is and discovering a whole new underground world of Scanners and people attempting to control them. SCANNERS III goes all-out Marvel Mutant on us, as an evil Scanner has aspirations of world domination while a noble Scanner attempts to thwart her. Though the conspiracy is nowhere near the more thrilling plot of an experimental drug given to pregnant women in order to create Scanners, it makes for a fun plot to hang some hokey action and proficient effects on.

The third and more unintentional connection is the fact that both of these films were made at relatively the same time; the horrible hairstyles and fashion of the late Eighties/early Nineties will definitely cause for some laughs when you view these two films. Feathered hair, skin-tight leotards, rolled up sleeves on a sports jacket, and white tennis shoes with stonewashed jeans can be found in almost every scene and prove to be the most scary aspect of both of these films put together.

SCANNERS II: THE NEW ORDER has horrifying acting and incredibly lame direction and story. The one redeeming factor is some decent gore and some fun snippets of the era it was made, especially the opening scene set in an arcade which will definitely play those chords of nostalgia for those around in that era. The shades of grey from Cronenberg’s SCANNERS start to dilute here into black and white/good guys vs. bad guys scenarios, and this overlong feature attempts to make the lead Scanner into a tragic figure, but both the script and acting keep us from connecting to the film.

I had much more fun with SCANNERS III: THE TAKEOVER, as it dives right into the camp with the lead bad villainess practically twirling her moustache in every scene and has a final showdown in a red jumpsuit leapt from the four-colored page. Still, the one-liner spewing villainess is fun to watch, there are a couple of nice bits of nudity, and the aforementioned themes of world domination are laughable but admirable in their aspirations to do something epic, and it even has some kung fu, some naughty nurses, a car chase ending with a flaming motorcycle, screeching LETHAL WEAPON-esque guitar riffs, and a flying Santa Claus (if you consider plummeting to one’s death flying, that is). It doesn’t succeed in reaching that epic status, but the creativity is there.

While these films are definitely never going to be showing up on anyone’s best of horror lists, they do make you realize how great Cronenberg’s original was, and maybe even makes you look past some of the original’s faults as well. I wouldn’t recommend this two pack to anyone but die hard completists, but this is probably the best these films have ever looked and probably better than they deserve to look.

The BluRays are light on extras, but if you like your psychic horror you’re going to want to make sure you own these sequels.

New this week on CD or digital download here!


Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

A while back I covered the first season of TALES FROM BEYOND THE PALE, a radio show-style anthology series from the mad mind of JUGFACE/YOU’RE NEXT star and BENEATH/HABIT director Larry Fessenden. Fessenden has gathered another cadre of talent to bring this new season to life, and I’m going to sit down with each of them to give you the what’s what about them all over the next few weeks.

Episode 2.1: RAM KING

By Joe Maggio
Starring Owen Campbell, Vincent D’Onofrio, Tobias Campbell, Brenda Cooney, Larry Fessenden, Joel Garland

This tale from Medieval times focuses on a young boy who questions his belief in a tribal god known as the Ram King. The story is a gritty tale of the strength of belief and legend and how that can be used to show strength and perverted to one’s own will. There is some nice voicework here and the final moments are really harrowing as there is a scene of torture and monstrous retribution.

As a way to start out this new series of horror tales, this is one that really feels like a campfire tale, based in legend and oozing with spooky ambiance. Written and directed by Joe Maggio who brought you BITTER FEAST, RAN KING is a story I’d love to see expanded some day as I’d love to see what this horned monster god looks like.

Recorded in front of a live audience, all of these mini-radio plays are available for download and purchase on the TALES FROM BEYOND THE PALE website.

New this week on DVD from Screen Media Films


Directed by Tom DeNucci
Written by Tom DeNucci
Starring Eric Roberts, Michael Berryman, Jonathan Silverman, Tommy DeNucci
Find out more about this film on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

As much as I want to see B-actors like Eric Roberts and C-stringers like Michael Berryman succeed, it’s clear that SELF STORAGE is not going to be the film to elevate them to the next level.

The overly complex story follows Eric Roberts who plays Walter, owner of a self storage facility who sells body parts on the black market on the side with the aid of his assistant Trevor (played by Michael Berryman). Tom DeNucci plays Jake (he also wrote and directed this), an oblivious security guard who wastes his days away getting high and sleeping on the job. After a swift lecture from Walter, Jake is forced into having a party in the back of the self storage facility which coincidentally happens on the night when Walter and Trevor are having a profitable exchange of parts for cash with the mob. When Jake accidentally hits the failsafe switch which disintegrates Walter’s stock in an acid bath, Walter and Trevor set out to replace the parts with those belonging to the partygoers, hopefully before the mob shows up to collect.

The plot written out doesn’t sound bad, and if there was some intrigue or sense of urgency here, this might be a taught little thriller. But DeNucci is more concerned with focusing on the partygoers dancing, smoking pot, partying, drinking, and having sex. To make matters worse, the party shenanigans are so unbelievably boring and cliché that it will literally take all of your force of will to keep from forwarding through this one. The fact that not one, but two, extended sex scenes occur through the course of the story shows where the interests of this film lie. After an hour of lame partying to even lamer music, Roberts and Berryman strike in equally uninspired ways.

Roberts is not awful here as the lead baddie who acts as an amateur surgeon to make ends meet. He hams it up in the exact way that we’ve come to associate with the actor. Berryman, though, does a great job and it’s a shame the guy isn’t in more films. His character is given a bit more depth and an actual arc, though his story does take a detour at the end of the story that seems to come out of the blue. Still, the guy is a hidden talent just waiting to be discovered and utilized well in a more decent movie.

SELF STORAGE turned out to be a misguided film that pays attention to the frivolous way of life without actually showing us any details that would make it appealing in any way. The extended and lame scenes of partying and the way the actors poorly convey as if they are having any fun would be forgivable if not for the fact that the film spends almost a solid hour on the party before anything actually happens. Store this one in the back of the closet and forget about it.

New this week on DVD (Find this film on Netflix here)!


Directed by Gabriel Bologna
Written by Michael Berenson, Gabriel Bologna, Sean Clark
Starring Robert Patrick, Danielle Harris, Sean Lawlor, James Duval, Nick Mennell, Mircea Monroe, Arcadiy Golubovich, Electra Avellan, Elise Avellan, Walker Howard, M.D. Walton
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

This is not a good week for low budget horror as THE BLACK WATERS OF ECHO’S POND shoots for the moon with a BB gun and, despite the presence of an impressive and eclectic little cast, it fails to have the oomph to make it.

The story centers on the ancient Greek myth of Pan, a twisted god of nature and mischief. The film starts with a group of archeologists uncovering ancient ruins dedicated to Pan. After most of the diggers end up dead, we flash forward to present day where a group of old friends get together to reunite for a weekend vacation. While inner turmoil brews due to the drama these friends all share, they decide to douse it with alcohol and drugs. When an ancient game is found in the basement, of course it’s a good idea to play and keep playing even though it seems to be bringing out the worst in everyone.

The film falters mainly because in order for it to proceed, the players must continue to play the game in order to the bad shit to happen. The problem with this ancient game is that it looks and plays like something you’d find in the game aisle at Toys R’ Us rather than some mystic summoning board. Drawing from two stacks of cards, basically the game is an overly complex take on Truth or Dare which pulls out the worst in all the players. After round one, any normal set of folks would have said fuck this and walked away from the game, but then there would be no movie. So play on they do, despite the extremely uncomfortable places the game takes them.

It doesn’t help that the young cast, though beautiful, are not talented enough to pull off the drama that is unfolding as significant others lust after other people, betrayals are uncovered, and jealousies are harvested. The only actor who seems to be trying here is Danielle Harris, who is always both a bundle of intensity and emotion and does the same here, trying her damndest to drag the less talented cast to places they just can’t get to. Even name actors like Robert Patrick, who is underutilized here despite his producer credit and James Duval, who is just one of those actors I can’t relate to, miss their marks most of the time here.

There’s a bit of action here and there, some decent bits of nudity and debauchery, the twins from Robert Rodriguez’s PLANET TERROR show up and chirp out some lines, and there’s some pretty decent gore and effects, including an impressive Pan suit with an articulated goat head, but the painful attempts to make this a character piece and the implausible plot device of the game make THE BLACK WATERS OF ECHO’S POND a hard one to sit through.

New this week on DVD (Find this film on Netflix here)!


Directed by Kieran Darcy-Smith
Written by Kieran Darcy-Smith & Felicity Price
Starring Joel Edgerton, Teresa Palmer, Felicity Price, Antony Starr, Nicholas Cassim
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Though I don’t know if I would completely consider this one a horror film, WISH YOU WERE HERE does have some horrific moments and is definitely filled with some performances that are bound to thrill and intrigue.

ZERO DARK THIRTY’s Joel Edgerton, WARM BODIES’ Teresa Palmer, writer Felicity Price, and Antony Starr from Cinemax’s BANSHEE play a quartet of young lovers (Palmer and Price play sisters, while Edgerton and Starr play their subsequent significant others) who take a vacation in Southeast Asia only to come back with one of them going missing and no one giving all of the information as to what happened. THE REEF actor Kieran Darcy-Smith, who directed and wrote this film with Felicity Price, does a fantastic job of laying out a complex story like puzzle pieces on a table with important pieces missing from the set. But the missing person is not the only secret the group brought back with them, as one night of partying proves to change all of their lives forever.

The story unfolds as a character piece, told in a non-linear form, so we can get to know this quartet of talented actors by seeing them as they have fun leading up to that fateful night when everything goes wrong and then watching their lives fill with torment afterwards. Telling a story in this manner would normally lose the viewer, but the presence of these talented actors keeps the whole thing afloat, and the tense editing and story beats make you ask questions right up to the end, with the truth being surprising and shocking, yet believable when it is finally revealed.

As I said, the acting here is top tier. Joel Edgerton is rock solid as a loving husband wrought with guilt over what transpired on the getaway. He is the foundation everything else is built around, and though at times I get distracted at how much the actor looks like Conan O’Brien, his presence here has an intensity that few actors are able to convey. Teresa Palmer surprised me at how likable she was in WARM BODIES. Here she is equal parts beautiful and haunted, making what could be a shallow character into a complex soul. Though I haven’t seen Felicity Price in anything else, she is solid here as someone struggling with a sense of betrayal and facing a dark unknown. Her descent in this film is most tragic and most heartfelt. And Anthony Starr, who plays such a badass on BANSHEE, shows a lighthearted side that I didn’t think the actor possessed and really makes me want to see more of this guy in BANSHEE and in other films.

Hitchcockian in set up, WISH YOU WERE HERE is a compelling mystery that will lead you along by the nose and wrench the heart. The deft way in which director Kieran Darcy-Smith handles this intricate tale of guilt and betrayal makes me want to pay close attention to what the director has up his sleeve next for us.

Available on DVD/BluRay this week! (Find this film on Netflix here!)


Directed by Richard Raaphorst
Written by Chris W. Mitchell, Richard Raaphorst, Miguel Tejada-Flores, inspired by the works of Mary Shelley
Starring Karel Roden, Alexander Mercury,Joshua Sasse, Robert Gwilym, Luke Newberry, Hon Ping Tang, Andrei Zayats, Mark Stevenson, Cristina Catalina, Jan de Lukowicz, Zdenek Barinka
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Let me start off by stating the obvious: FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY is set during the final days of World War II as Russian troops make their way through Europe battling Nazis. During this excursion, one Russian soldier is documenting the whole thing via a handheld video camera. Now I believe, though hand held cameras of this sort did exist at the time, it was not able to capture color footage with sound. Maybe I’m completely incorrect, but I don’t think the technology to actually film the events that occur in this film actually existed. Still, this is a found footage film in color with sound set during World War II, so if that bothers you to the point where you dismiss the film, then so be it. I was able to accept this technological inconsistency and was able to press on despite it, and if you’re able to suspend your disbelief as well, you might come out the other end of FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY enjoying the experience.

Had the filmmakers gone the route of WAR OF THE WORLDS: THE TRUE STORY (which I reviewed here a few weeks ago) and filmed the movie in more of a film stock more authentic to the era, I think the feeling of ingenuity would have been less so. Sure, black and white movies have to be SCHINDLER’S LIST or THE ARTIST to be taken seriously these days, but I feel I would have bought into the premise of the film a little better had the extra mile been taken with this found footage film. But again, that’s not the route taken by the filmmakers and I’ll just have to move past it.

The story basically follows a group of Russian soldiers as they stumble into a facility which serves as Victor Frankenstein’s lab. Vic’s been busy working for the Nazis, and the troops soon find out exactly what his experiments have spawned. As the cameraman and the rest of the troops try to make it out of the facility to survive, the camera captures some pretty impressive monsters along the way and that’s where FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY shines.

There is a lot of practical ingenuity and elbow grease put into the monster effects of FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY. Sporting names like Burned Match Man and Mosquito, the monstrosities that lurk the halls of Frankenstein’s lab are the stuff of techno-flesh nightmare. Seeing the way body parts have been grafted with weaponized mechanics is something to behold, and each of the monsters seems to have a lot of attention paid to them. Being practical effects, it adds an extra layer of horror as these characters interact with the environment and actors around them in a manner CG just can’t replicate.

That said, FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY feels a whole lot more like a funhouse ride spook house rather than a story as basically the entire last half of the movie consists of monsters lunging out of the darkness growling from their mouth-holes and revving chainsaw-grafted limbs at passing soldiers and into the lens of the camera. This action is repeated over and over again, with just the type of monster changed. The handheld aspect simply amps this funhouse feel, which is good for the “comin’ at ‘cha” cheap thrill, but doesn’t do much else than that initial jolt. It’s repeated numerous times, and the effect lessens with every burst.

The use of the word fuck, though not necessarily something that wasn’t voiced during World War II, shows up at an alarming rate in this film coming from the Russian soldiers. I don’t know why, but the dialect felt less authentic as the “fucks” seem to have an edge of modern street to it when uttered by the soldiers. There was something about the amount and tone of the usage that didn’t set well with me.

Karel Roden of HELLBOY and A LONELY PLACE TO DIE plays Viktor Frankenstein, and does so with an over the top glee. Roden is fun to watch as he revels in Frankenstein’s medical madness, splicing body and machine together with whatever he can find handy. I love the circular kettles with human legs following him around. It shows that the makers of this film were not taking things too seriously. I think it’s that added humor and almost wink towards the viewer that makes me forgive FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY for its faults and appreciate it for the carnival fun ride that it is. Those expecting heavy, straight-faced horror will find themselves left wanting, but FRANKENSTEIN’S ARMY is good for quite a few laughs and thrills as well as some phenomenal practical effects and full body prosthetics.

In theaters today!

INSIDIOUS 2 (2013)

Directed by James Wan
Written by James Wan & Leigh Whannell
Starring Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Barbara Hershey, Ty Simpkins, Lin Shaye, Steve Coulter, Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson, Andrew Astor
Find out more about this film here
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

Though the first INSIDIOUS was not the perfect film, I will say that the first half is damn near perfect in tone, patience, and rock solid scares. Having just sat through a double feature of both INSIDIOUS and INSIDIOUS 2, I still think the first holds up in terms of scare and the second, while not as powerful in the story department, continues to do what the original did well and fixes a few of its missteps as well.

INSIDIOUS CHAPTER 2 begins almost seconds after the original ends (a lost art in horror today’s sequels, but seems to be on the resurgence with the HATCHET and CHUCKY series paying close attention to continuity these days), after a brief flashback featuring a younger Josh (played by Patrick Wilson as an adult) meeting a younger version of Lin Shaye’s ghost whisperer Elise for the first time, having been plagued with night terrors. Just as the doll sequence in THE CONJURING sets the tone of the film perfectly, this one offers a nice sampling of the terrors to come. After we are smacked in the face with music and the big letters INSIDIOUS across the screen, we’re ready to pick up where we left off with the original.

As the last moments of INSIDIOUS suggest, this film focuses on the Lambert family once again, who continue to experience paranormal phenomena around their house. Though the slightly off Josh is adamant that the terror has subsided and that both his wife Renai (Rose Byrne) and mother Lorraine (Barbara Hershey) need to ignore the weird stuff in order to take power away from them, the weirdness persists. But what we are aware of, is that Josh returned from the Further (a sort of in-between ghost world astral projectionists like Josh and his son go to in their sleep) somewhat different than when he went in.

What director/writer Wan and writer Leigh Whannel (who returns as Specs, one half of the comedy relief ghost hunting team from the original) do right is make this film feel like a real continuation from the original. While it takes half of the film for the family to accept the ghostly business in the first film, Renai and Lorraine immediately sense that the horror isn’t over. So there’s less of those dull moments where you know there’s something wrong even though the characters don’t. Renai even suspects something is off with Josh early on, which makes for some nice tension between the two talented actors.

Wan and Whannel’s true talent seem to be tapping into those childhood nightmare scenarios and this film is littered with them. All of those nights alone in your room that most of us have forgotten or replaced in our minds with info like online passwords and such never left these guys consciousness. It’s this “in tunement” with childhood fear that is ever present as the beating heart of effective scares in this whole INSIDIOUS series. The scenes where a child sits up at night and looks into that dark corner or closet or the fear of walking through a quiet house past open doors and dark rooms are the most effectively paced and executed here. In the INSIDIOUS movies, you have to pay close attention because the fear could be in any corner of the screen, making this one of those films that is definitely more fun to watch on the big screen. Though it’s a scene repeated over and over in this film, watching one of the characters venture through a creepy house is going to tightened my spine every time.

While there are plenty of scenes that are sure to cause a start, I didn’t get that guttural sense of terror in the sequel as I did in the original with the fire faced demon (who is not present in this film). There are some nice scares; a room full of human forms covered in dirty sheets comes to mind, and a definite level of subversive creep that makes the story a little more perverse as it involves abuse which turns out to be so horrible that it lives beyond death, but in adding that level of oddity, it takes away from those childhood fears and dirties it in some way, making INSIDIOUS CHAPTER 2 less effective in tapping into the scares of childhood than the original in terms of where the story goes.

Midway through, things get extremely expositiony as someone is constantly explaining, reexplaining, and then making sure we get it by explaining it one more time. There are some nicely paced paradoxes that come into play that tie both the first and second films together even tighter which I loved, but they almost shoot themselves in the foot by literally having characters saying “Oh, so that’s what that meant.” almost directly to the audience.

I also couldn’t help but get a bit overwhelmed by the way all of the houses the family and paranormal team went too looked like it was filmed in the same locale, just decorated differently. Every one of the homes have a long hallway beside a staircase to the right of the screen, with a side room at the bottom of the stairs. It even felt like the same house they used in THE CONJURING. Maybe this was coincidence, but it really felt similar and while the narrative does a decent job of differentiating the location of the story, I couldn’t help but notice either this was the same place done and redone to save cash or just too similar. Either way, I think the use of so many locations to tell this story was a bit extraneous and a tighter script might have dropped the importance of one of them, especially when alternative versions of the same locale are used for the scenes happening in conjunction with the real world in the Further.

Clunky midsection aside, INSIDIOUS CHAPTER fixes the weak ending of the first one and it doesn’t feel like they ran out of money this time around, as the filmmakers admitted they did in the first. While the final moments with the Lamberts do feel like they wrap things up rather quickly, the end moments do leave you with that feeling of something is standing directly behind your shoulder and breathing heavy breaths through talon-like teeth.

I’m recommending INSIDIOUS CHAPTER 2 for trying to make a true sequel which is difficult to do these days with many producers still thinking making someone watch another film beforehand is too much to ask an audience. As long as the continuity continues to be this tight, I’m all for supporting this film series which has proven to be a cinematic bendy straw through childhood night terrors and haunted house shriekery.

And finally…nothing is more compelling (and more disgusting), than hobos. The lunatics at 51 Deep know this and show this to us all in this tale of hobo hilarity and horror called TALLMAN & THE BEARD. Enjoy!

See ya next week, folks!

Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of AICN COMICS for over 12 years & AICN HORROR for 3. He has written comics such as VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS THE TINGLERS & WITCHFINDER GENERAL, THE DEATHSPORT GAMES, & NANNY & HANK (soon to be made into a feature film from Uptown 6 Films). He has co-written FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND’s LUNA: ORDER OF THE WEREWOLF (to be released in 2013 as a 100-pg original graphic novel). Mark wrote the critically acclaimed GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK from Zenescope Entertainment & GRIMM FAIRY TALES #76-81. Look for GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK: LAST OF THE SPECIES available in February-July 2013 and the new UNLEASHED crossover miniseries GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS WEREWOLVES: THE HUNGER #1-3 available in May-July 2013! Follow Ambush Bug on the Twitter @Mark_L_Miller.

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